Between the Soldiers and the Sea

Fairplain Presbyterian Church
Fairplain Presbyterian Church
Between the Soldiers and the Sea

The transcript of the story appears below.

Moses stood staring out at the red sea.

How had he gotten himself into this?

Oh, right, there was a burning bush. A bush aflame with the fire of God, a fire that warmed and illuminated, but did not consume.

He’d spent 40 years in that wilderness. He’d met the love of his life there. He’d married her. All that time, he carried the weight of the people he was from, the people whose enslavement he’d benefited from. But there it was, a burning bush, and a word from God to a man who’d given up on that ridiculous dream of marching up to the Pharaoh of the greatest country in the world, the great superpower, and demanding that he “Let my people go.”

He’d listed off to the bush all of his very good reasons as to why one man marching in and telling Pharaoh to “Let my people go” was literally the dumbest thing he’d ever heard, but the voice from the unconsuming fire overcame all of his reasons. There was a magic trick with leprosy and his staff turning into a snake – things that, in the moment, he found compelling.

You know how sometimes you agree to do a thing even though you don’t think it’s a good idea because you’ve run out of arguments and you’re starting to look silly? I think maybe that’s where Moses was when God put God’s hands on Moses’ shoulders and marched him – and his wife and kids, no less! – off to Egypt to demand that Pharaoh do the one thing Pharaoh would never do.

How many times in the past few weeks or months had he turned to God, the Voice who had followed him from that burning bush and spoke to him from the sound of a sharp silence, and said, “Wait, I thought this was supposed to make things better!” Like the time Pharaoh decided they had too much time on their hands and told them to gather their own straw, but the quota would not be lessened.

The details were crystal-clear when he looked at them, but the big picture was fuzzy. Now this man who’d spent his career leading sheep was being followed by a ragtag band of formerly enslaved people, though the “formerly” part was in doubt, because God’s plan – God’s, not Moses’ – was to lure the Egyptians to chase after them where they were by the sea.

Seriously. Up to now, that was the whole plan. “You’re bait. They’ll see you wandering aimlessly and they’ll chase after you and I’ll gain glory over them.” The details were… lacking.

Hadn’t the plagues been enough? In the end, Pharaoh himself had lost his firstborn son, just as he had robbed so many Israelites of their firstborn sons. Why did God still need to do this one last thing, and what even was it?

As the dust rose over the hills, Moses prayed to God, but the voice that spoke to him in the wilderness said nothing.

As the 600 chariots and their horses and riders resolved from specks in the distance to figures that were recognizable as chariots and horses and riders, Moses prayed to God, but the voice that spoke to him in the wilderness said nothing.

For a moment, the rumble of the chariots became audible, and then it was drowned out as the formerly enslaved people defaulted to the emotion the Egyptians had trained them in from their first breath: Fear. Fear spoke:

Why did you take us out to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves in Egypt? Why did you do this to us? Didn’t we tell you, “leave us be and go away, we’re fine here?” Better a live dog than a dead lion.

Patrick Henry famously said “Give me liberty or give me death.” The Israelites looked off in horror at the horizon line where their march for liberty was about to turn into death and said to Moses, “Why on earth did you pick death for us? We would’ve settled for enslavement!”

Moses looked at the horizon, where the chariots were becoming more and more clear. Was it too late to just walk away? Build a raft on the water and float off? He could get to the other side before the chariots, probably – take his wife and kids and sail away, right? How many times had he thought about calling the whole thing off? No, there wasn’t any wood. If they wanted to be slaves, maybe he could negotiate that. He leaves, and Israel goes back to Egypt willingly. No, Pharaoh was too angry at this point to be reasoned with or bought off.

Moses, hiding his voice amid the din of people trying to ask him why he wanted to kill them all, cried to the sky asking the God who identified as “I will be who I will be” one more time, “What exactly is the plan here?!”, but is met with silence.

“Okay, what do we do? If we don’t stop this, there’s going to be a riot and people are going to get killed, maybe not even by the Egyptians, probably starting with me.”” He looked around and climbed up on the rock.

He steadied his voice. “DO NOT BE AFRAID!” he said, hoping he didn’t sound afraid himself. “STAND FIRM,” and, he hoped, stand in one place, “And see the deliverance that God will accomplish for you today!” Moses hoped he’d see it too, because otherwise he’d probably just see the inside of Pharaoh’s prison, and his torturers. Pharaoh would probably kill his whole family and many of the people of Israel, and make him watch, and say it was his fault. And it kind of was.

“The God named I AM WHO I AM will fight for you while you keep still!” He hoped it was convincing. Please keep still. Please. He willed them to keep still and not kill him before God did something. Please, God. Do something.

The chariots got closer. Too close. Much too close.

Then a sharp, profound silence cracked through the air and broke the noise. Moses looked around to see if anyone else had reacted. No. Only he could hear it. Only he could hear the words. “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to move forward. But you lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground. Then I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them, and so I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army, his chariots, and his chariot drivers. Then the Egyptians shall know that I am the GOD WHO IS, when I have gained glory for myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his chariot drivers.”

Finally, a plan.

The pillar of cloud moved, not a moment too soon, to the back of the camp. Between the camp of Israel and the Egyptians. The thundering of the chariots stopped. Moses started breathing again.

Moses lifted up his staff and raised his hand over the sea.

This was it. The moment of truth. It had worked every other time. The plague of frogs, the days of darkness, turning the Nile into blood… but never a roaring sea. This was new.

Nothing happened.

He felt eternities pass between his heartbeats, arms in the air, one holding his shepherd’s staff, the other stretched over the water.

This was not going to work. He was going to look like a fool. Like he had 40 years ago when he killed that Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew and had to flee to Midian for his life. He hadn’t been able to save this family he didn’t know was his for half his life. He hadn’t been able to save them then, and he wouldn’t be able to now. That old shame came roaring back with the wind that began to pick up.

This was it. This was the end. The wind would blow away the cloud and the Egyptians would find their way through the fog and find him standing here like a fool with one hand in the air and one stretched out over the water.

The silence wouldn’t last long. The people were going to expect something to happen. But he knew the truth. Nothing would. He gripped his staff tighter. As the water got choppier, he almost let his head hang in disappointment. All this way for nothing. All the way from Midian and he was going to die because that god who spoke to him from the burning bush bit off more glory than he could chew.

He closed his eyes as a tear slipped through, and he was glad he was facing away from the people. This was all his fault. He should’ve known better. He should’ve just kept going toward Canaan.

This was not going to work. That fraud in the bush could do some neat parlor tricks, but nothing here. Best prepare the people to die here as best he could. He lowered his staff and had to hold on to his robe to keep it from blowing away in the wind. He turned and faced the people.

They stood there, looking at him anxiously, looking hopefully, as though he might find something, some way. Maybe he could turn the Egyptians into frogs? Smite them with something. Darkness, maybe?

They were silent and still. Waiting for him to do something.

He took a few breaths to pull himself together, asking the God of the burning bush the same questions these people asked him a few moments ago. He pushed down his robe again from the blasted wind, and that’s when he noticed that even though they were all looking in his direction, not a single one of them was looking at him.

They were looking at that indentation in the sea.